Review GIANTSKY – Giant Sky II – by John Wenlock-Smith

GIANTSKY‘Giant Sky II’ is unusual for me in that it is well outside of any comfort zone that I occupy. This album, though it interests me, it’s a challenge and that makes it worthy of my time and effort, it’s good to be challenged musically at times and who knows what you may discover on the way…

So that is the attitude in which I approached this album, knowing absolutely nothing about the project except the blurb that says it is a amalgam of musical styles and influences including Nick Drake, Mogwai, shoegaze (whatever that means?) and, last but not least, the Blade Runner soundtrack, well that certainly piqued my interest as I consider Blade Runner and its soundtrack to be utter masterpieces.

Looking at a dictionary definition of ‘shoegaze’ in music it is revealed to be ‘A style of rock music in which the distinctions between separate instruments and vocals are blurred’, this term apparently came from bands who had that sound in part because they were looking down at effects pedals used in making it, which helps a little I guess.

Let’s get down to the main event; GIANTSKY are from Norway, main man Erlend Viken is the songwriter for Soup and this is a collaboration with the Trondheim Symphonic OrchestraCombos, WZRD, Motorpsycho, Hanne Mjøen and more.

So what is all the fuss about or is it just hyperbole, does this have any musical merit or is it just tosh? Read on to find out…

The album opens, as does almost every progressive influenced or affiliated album nowadays, with Origin Of Species, an instrumental with a growling synth and almost Close Encounters Of The Third Kind notes that shimmer in the sound before a broader sweep of orchestrations is introduced. It’s all very effective and fairly traditional in tone, which cannot be said of the next track, Imposter, which begins with an acoustic guitar chugging with an echoed,reverbed vocal and the introduction of a fine female vocal. A distorted, fuzzy guitar then briefly enters the fray before disappearing, the female voice returning before a guitar and synth solo appears and the guitar solo plays out for the remainder of the track. Speak Through Walls opens with gentle acoustic guitar and a delicate female vocal once more, The track has some fine piano lines and also some lovely orchestral events (initially the flute) which sound really grand. A deep synth bass is added to the sound palette and the tinkling piano evokes Blade Runner, as does the sequence where an effect laden guitar plays with good use of tremolo effects. The latter part of the song is very busy and intense in sound, almost bordering on distortion, but it’s still a highly effective track nonetheless.

Space Farrier opens with piano and synths before an electronic drumbeat is added, all very 1980’s in tone, making it very intriguing. The songs then gains in intensity and the drums become more intense than before. This track is instrumental throughout its duration with great effects in the middle section, all very over the top and Hawkwind like in parts before the tinkling piano returns to tame the sound somewhat. A heavier synth bass is added to the mix most effectively as the track draws to a close ,with more tinkling piano. A very impressive track that segues into The Present with engagingly gentle guitar and keyboard washes which create big open sounds that compliment the narrative from Eckhart Tolle. To The Pensieve is far more moody and downbeat in tone and amidst it all are lots of chattering synths and a graceful piano along with more tremelo guitar lines. It is actually rather sweet and gentle, I really like this track as it has a great atmosphere to its sound. The song wells in the middle part, growing in intensity as it builds up in power before returning to the gentle sound once again with more flute and woodwinds playing. A couple of shorter tracks follow, namely Dispatch Of Species and Curbing Lights, the former is an atmospheric instrumental with a drone type melody and what sounds like a pipe organ, especially in the bottom end. Curbing Lights is a more sprightly number with synth and what sounds like Theramin effects and a busy drum pattern playing around everything in what is almost a wall of sound, it is very effective indeed.

The album’s longest track I Am The Night opens pretty gently with more piano and a good bass line sitting alongside the acoustic guitar. An electric guitar line then plays joined by ethereal vocals before a strong bass motif is played and a flute joins in. This is superbly constructed and performed, a double bass drum rhythm and then a decidedly more aggressive section begins with increasing sound and intensity. There are some impressive guitar lines added within the overall sound and, as such, are perhaps a little buried in the mix by all that is happening around it. It is definitely an interesting track but one that is maybe too busy at times, which stops it being the best track on the album, just my opinion though! Birds With Borders opens with a lovely folk section and more fine vocals. This initially gentle song builds in its intensity, creating its own unique voice in the journey and it certainly makes a mark, as do the excellent orchestrations that form part of its sound. Tables Turn is a harder sounding track with great effects and excellent male and female vocals, almost heading into atmospheric ambient territory. The penultimate track is King In  Yellow and it’s very interesting with lots going on and lots of orchestral embellishments along with a slow burning, almost sedate, rhythm section and lots of effects. There’s a sustained, almost Mike Oldfield-like biting guitar line within the mix as it powers onwards. It may only be a short track but, for me, it’s a great one that really connects.The album closes with Seeds which has another gentle opening, with duetting vocals, a sturdy piano motif and swirling sounds. It’s pretty lush overall with fine synth lines, all heavily modulated which sound really effective as they build and climb well, taking the song forward. A great guitar line is played as the song begins to wind down. This track is well delivered and epic in tone and it sounds really good, especially on headphones, as the song and album end on long sustained tones.

I really can’t quite make up my mind about this album, it certainly is very interesting, immersive and sounds fantastic in parts. However, I personally found it overlong and at times difficult to really get into, perhaps I need to hear the first album and then this one played one after the other. There’s no denying the musicianship and songwriting skills on show but I would suggest that you listen first before investing, it’s your choice.

Released 1st December, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:


Review – Orion – Passing Through

Orion is the musical project of the hugely talented, and very humble, Ben Jones and John Wenlock-Smith reviewed Orion’s debut release, ‘The End Of Suffering’, earlier this year and was mightily impressed, closing his review with this paragraph;

“There is great musicianship and intelligence to this album, all in all ‘The End of Suffering’ is a most wonderful release, I highly commend it to all, especially those who like their prog harder and less symphonic.”

I had to heartily agree with John, the fact that it was totally self-financed by Ben and he wrote, performed and produced every single note was also worthy of much appreciation. Now, as Ben works on his second full length album, he has released a taster of the Orion’s musical direction with this new E.P. ‘Passing Through’. Ben gives us some background to this new release;

‘”Passing Through’ is a mini release, aimed at giving people an insight into where Orion will be headed next. It features three new songs, and hopefully breaks some new musical ground. There is also an extended version available, which also includes instrumental mixes of the three new tracks“, He goes on to say, With ‘Passing Through,’ I’ve been keen to implement different time signatures, more intricate playing, wider soundscapes, and generally take a bit more of an adventurous path with the music. Beyond expanding my synth library, I’ve also added some orchestral sample packs into my musical palette. I’m no Michael Kamen, but it’s been exciting to resurrect my music theory knowledge, and apply it to strings, woodwind and horn sections.  I’ve also added a seven-string guitar and a five-string bass to the mix, resulting in at least one track which is, I dare say, verging on heavy.

So, without further ado, let’s dig into these three new tracks…

The opening track The Tumult of My Heart was inspired by a book of the same name by Jason Spencer from The Prog Mind. The book is about trying to deal with religious trauma from the author’s past. The song itself tries to deal with these issues. There are many good elements to religion, and there are many bad elements. That’ simplifying it a tad, but you get the picture. As for the music, well, what can I say, an imposing wall of sound is created by the layered widescreen guitar sound and the powerful rhythm section but the vocals add some real heart and soul so it’s not just a metal track. There’s a searching passion and questioning mind at the heart of this powerfully emotive piece of music and a feeling of fragility and a soul laid bare. It’s very compelling and influential and a great start to the E.P.

My favourite song of the three is The Ghosts Among Us, it is a profound piece of music written about the gut wrenching experience of caring for someone with a profound disability. Whilst it’s not something Ben has had to do, it is something he’s witnessed first hand. And I myself have a real affinity with this track as I have some experience of this myself and which came all flooding back as I listened to this brilliantly written song.

Ultimately, it’s almost as if they’re no longer alive, other than physically. You can read their vital signs, but can you read them as a person? I can’t imagine having to make the decision to switch off the things that are keeping some people alive, but I also can’t imagine the horror of being trapped in an unresponsive body.

Genres go out of the window when there is a subject as deep as this, it is just beautifully enlightened and discerning music that treats the subject matter with the gravity it deserves, a hauntingly graceful guitar opens the song before the hushed vocal enters, adding an earnest, insightful quality, before the drums and superb bass lay down a dynamic rhythm and Ben’s vocal takes over. I can’t really describe how the music touches you and makes you feel, you’ll just have to listen to it yourself, suffice to say I felt enlightened by the sensitive way the subject is dealt with on this utterly captivating track, bravo to Ben for getting it perfect, much like the superb guitar solo…

After the emotional roller coaster of the previous track, the in-your-face metal infused prog of This Sickness and it’s diatribe on the negativity of social media is just about spot on.

“When I finally become the Supreme Ruler of Earth, Tik Tok will be burned to the ground… Vote for me. I’m not a fan of social media. It’s just terrible. I appreciate the irony of the fact that my entire following is based around Facebook and Bandcamp, but that’s different. I don’t do absurd dances to terrible music… I write my own terrible music. As with all things, there are good parts and bad parts. In my view, the bad parts of social media seem to outnumber the good.”

And, man, is this track angry! Crunching guitars in the style of ‘Train Of Thought’ era Dream Theater and drums that are hewn out of granite open this thunderously compelling track. The vocals are distinct and authoritarian and the whole song just bleeds a potent intent. This is ‘proper’ prog-metal that puts a smile on my face, and not just because of the subject matter. The musicianship is sublime and Ben just seems to be having a whale of a time, venting his frustration in the best way he knows how. It’s a riot from beginning to end and I seriously enjoyed it.

It’s not often I review E.P’s but, knowing it was the follow up to Orion’s stunning debut album and a glimpse into Ben’s future musical direction, I just had to review this one. I am so glad I did, ‘Passing Through’ shows a musician highly confident in his abilities and features songwriting of the highest calibre. It’s a monumental achievement in only three songs and I cannot wait for what comes next, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Released 1st December, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here;

Passing Through | Orion (

And, for the measly additional cost of £1, you can get the extended edition with the instrumentals here:

Passing Through – Extended Edition | Orion (

Review – D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings – Sophomore – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Sophomore’, the second album from the triumvirate of Nick D’Virgilio, Neal Morse and Ross Jennings, comes roughly two years after their debut album ‘Troika’ and, once again, we see three distinctly different voices blend together harmoniously, in tandem but also in good spirits.

The debut album was conceived and compiled during the lockdowns and around the movement and activities of these three working musicians in 2021, with one of the most impressive elements being that the trio had not actually met each other in person, well Nick and Neal had in their Spock’s Beard days but Ross was just a name at that time, known but, as of yet, not known by the others. This has been rectified for this release, with the three together in the video for Anywhere The Wind Blows.

Well, for those who enjoyed ‘Troika’, you will love this gentle further chapter of the trio’s story. The twelve track release is full of gentle, mostly acoustically driven music with more than a passing nod to the likes of CSN&Y, Graham Nash, Gordon Lightfoot, America or even James Taylor. This is especially noticeable on the track The Weary One, again the video will show you their great teamwork and their fabulous harmonies of voice. This really is a very relaxed, chilled vibe to listen to, however, for me the album really came alive when heard on headphones and when I had the lyrics as, although the vocals are clear, I just find it helps.

The opening song, Hard To Be Easy really grows on you, there is a lot of musical versatility on display and the bass work is great, the bottom end being very solid and consistent with the music. The songs warrant multiple plays to really engage with them fully. This album is not as straightforward as the debut was but, even so, it sees a real progression in their sound and there are multiple little touches that make this really work. It is an intelligent and somewhat compelling album of songs, all of which are well crafted and well written by the three of them. Tiny Little Fires is a case in point, this may be mostly acoustic but it powers along tremendously with a great little riff and a good synth solo that lifts the song well, it also has great Hammond Organ support. Right Where You Should Be has strong country elements, including pedal steel guitar sweeps and licks that supplement the track. It is an introspective song but tells us that we are right where we should be all along, it is possibly one of the albums strongest songs. Although to be fair, The Weary One is also a very strong contender with a good sympathetic cello part playing. There is also a very elegant fiddle that adds to the great dynamics of the song, the harmonies are also really fine on this track, making it another standout.

Mama is a more electric track and far more rock oriented than its predecessors. It is an ode to strong and firm mothers who guide their offspring into a good life, children who make them proud and don’t bring shame. This has a neat electric guitar solo from and is an interesting and rather rocky track and excellent fun. I’m Not Afraid is about doing right every day, another dose of Neal’s faith popping out I suspect with its generally positive lyrics. There’s another great guitar element and lines in this one. Weighs Me Down is another country music style song that has more of the stylish pedal steel amongst its sound and is a bit more downbeat and reflective in tone, it rolls along well though! Walking On Water has an almost Doobie Brothers swing and feel to it and the great lyrics and Spanish guitar flourishes add to this impression. There’s a great chorus too in this song, this one really impresses. You can hear the Doobies influences clearly but it’s all incredibly well done, the fiery guitar part in the middle does little to deny that view! What it is is a really great song, the albums longest and, to these ears, the best of the bunch.

Anywhere The Wind Blows is the albums final official track, and, again, there is a strong soft country-rock sound to it. This is the song that was the album’s lead single and has a rather excellent video that you can find at the end of this review. The track has a good accapella part in the middle, it’s a terrific song with sumptuous backing that really allows the trio to sing their hearts out. On the CD, that’s almost it except for the two extra songs which are slightly different takes on Right Where You Should Be and The Weary One, which are both very good but add nothing extra to their earlier incarnations, although they are possibly a little different vocally. Either way, they merely reinforce just how confident and accomplished the trio are, I believe further adventures, and possibly some live shows, could be on the horizon, it will be interesting to see what unfolds in that direction

However in the interim, sit back, enjoy and appreciate the craft that the trio offer on ‘Sophomore’. I really like it a lot, it’s different to my usual fare but fantastic to listen to when you want something different.

Released 10th November, 2023.

Order the album here:

Sophomore (

Steve Hackett reveals the first single “People of the Smoke” from his new conceptual studio album ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale – Out 16th February, 2023.

Legendary rock guitarist Steve Hackett is set to release his new studio album ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ on 16th February 2024, via InsideOut Music. A rite-of-passage concept album with a young character called Travla at the centre of it, ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’s’ 13 tracks have an autobiographical angle for the musician who says about his 30th solo release: “I love this album. It says the things I’ve been wanting to say for a very long time.”

Today he is pleased to reveal the first single, and the albums opening track, ‘People of the Smoke’, you can watch the video now here:

Steve says of the track: “People of the Smoke spins us all back in time to 1950, when bustling post-war London was stifled with smog from trains, chimneys, industry and smokers. I was born into that world! This song kicks off an album following my life’s journey both literally and metaphorically…”

The new album is available to pre-order on several different formats, including a Limited CD+Blu-ray mediabook (including 5.1 Surround Sound & 24bit high resolution stereo mixes), Standard CD Jewelcase, Gatefold 180g Vinyl LP & as Digital Album. All feature the stunning cover painting by Denise Marsh. Pre-order now here:

Steve will celebrate the release of his new album with two HMV instore events in London & Birmingham, where he will be taking part in a Q&A and signing albums. Find out more details on those here:

‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ is Steve’s first new music in over two years. Recorded between tours in 2022 and 2023 at Siren studio in the UK – with guest parts beamed in from Sweden, Austria, the US, Azerbaijan and Denmark. The line-up for ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ includes some familiar faces alongside Steve on electric and acoustic guitars, 12-string, mandolin, harmonica, percussion, bass and vocals. Roger King (keyboards, programming and orchestral arrangements), Rob Townsend (sax), Jonas Reingold (bass), Nad Sylvan (vocals), Craig Blundell (drums) and Amanda Lehmann on vocals. Nick D’Virgilio and Hugo Degenhardt return as guests on the drumstool, engineer extraordinaire Benedict Fenner appears on keyboards and Malik Mansurov is back with the tar. Finally, Steve’s brother John Hackett is present once more on flute.

The full tracklisting is as follows:

1. People Of The Smoke

2. These Passing Clouds

3. Taking You Down

4. Found And Lost

5. Enter The Ring

6. Get Me Out!

7. Ghost Moon and Living Love

8. Circo Inferno

9. Breakout

10. All At Sea

11. Into The Nightwhale 

12. Wherever You Are

13. White Dove

Summing up ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’, Steve says: “It’s a lovely journey that starts dirty, scratchy and smoky and becomes heavenly and divine. How can you resist it?”

Steve recently completed his North American Tour where he continued his ‘Foxtrot At Fifty + Hackett Highlights’ run.  Next year he will tour the world extensively, including a brand new UK tour ‘Genesis Greats, Lamb Highlights & Solo’, which will see him return to the legendary Royal Albert Hall.  For the full list of dates, head to:

Review – The Round Window – Everywhere & Nowhere

“The True Beauty Of Music Is That It Connects People”

I have made many connections through music and met many people who have become lifelong friends through an appreciation of all that is good about it. One of those people is Richard Lock, the vocalist from Essex band The Round Window who reached out to me about reviewing the band’s debut release and the rest, as they say, is now history as they gear up to release their sophomore creation.

The Round Window are an Essex based 5 piece playing widescreen rock, drawing from a wide range of influences. This, their second album, ‘Everywhere & Nowhere’ was recorded with Robin Armstrong as producer from November ’22 to June ’23. The album contains eight songs that cover topics of conflict and duality, both on a personal and wider level. the album is, by turns, both hopeful and melancholy.

Richard Lock (vocals), Thomas Lock (keyboards, vocals), Jack Lock (drums, vocals), David Brazington (guitar) and Dietmar Schantin (bass) create a signature sound that was a huge characteristic of their self-titled debut release, an album which I called, “A high quality release with wonderfully emotive songs and superb musicianship.”

I had a chat with Richard and he had this to say about the new release;

“We had a lot more time with this one to work on textures and sounds and the songs were more written with the full lineup in mind. Robin (Armstrong) was involved from the start as well which really helped in building up the layers. I think you’re right with the feel as well (I’d said that it was slightly deeper than the last album, more wistful and melancholy) – it’s not a concept album by any stretch of the imagination but there’s more consistency with the themes and emotions. For me, it flows a lot better than the debut. It’s not a criticism of the first album because it was more “simply” written but this one needed that step up in sound.

So, a lot to live up to then but I knew, on the strength of their debut release, that this talented set of musicians definitely had the skill set to deliver…

‘Everywhere & Nowhere’ is another hugely impressive collection of songs from this accomplished band and opens with the ten minute mini-epic The Tides, a stirring song where guitar, keyboards, bass and drums deliver a combination of classic AOR with added dashes of prog sensibility. The glue that holds everything together are Richard’s highly distinctive vocals. His earnest delivery takes something very good and just lifts it to another level that, added to the evocative delivery of the music, makes this exciting outfit one of the best around at the moment. It’s high impact music delivered with more than a touch of flair, just take the mid section of the track where everything calms down as Thomas delivers a glorious piano refrain that just warms your heart before the evocative vocals join in, it’s genius. Everywhere & Nowhere is another excellent piece of music. The title track has a wonderful rhythm guitar playing that gives the track a real flow and the rhythm section are as superb as ever. This quasi AOR/Prog crossover sound has the basics that make a great song and a memorable chorus is one of them and this track has a cracker. One of the additional highlights is the fiery guitar solo from David which, along with the snazzy keyboards, adds real style to what is already a quality piece of music. The wistful and emotive All Roads Lead Home slows things down a bit, it’s a wonderfully affective and touching song that really hits deep. Richard’s vocal has a more melancholy edge and the music is refined and dignified. as it seems to meander along like a bubbling brook as time almost stands still. The repeated refrain of ‘All these Roads…’ has a longing and passion, as does the superb guitar solo, it’s a heartwarming song that leaves a bit of moisture in the eye…

I have to admit that I am a huge fan of the saxophone in any type of music so to hear it smoothly delivered at the start of the dynamic Resist put a huge smile on my face. This upbeat, energetic track would be chart worthy material, if we were back in the 80’s and it’s one of the highlights of the album for me and not just because of the glorious sax playing! The powerfully compelling music and charismatic vocal just show how far this band have come. Holes opens with some haunting keyboards before Richard’s restrained vocal joins in. There’s a simmering tension sitting just underneath the surface of this laid back piece of music, the guitar has a fantastic echoing effect to it and the song just oozes confidence and sophistication, AOR infused prog of the highest quality. A plaintive vocal and pared back acoustic guitar ushers in the nostalgic feeling Ghosts. This contemplative piece has a yearning and sorrow deep at its core which can be heard in Richard’s searching vocal and the dreamlike feel to the music, especially those oh so expressive keyboards. This track adds even more prog to the AOR and does remind me a bit of the great neo-prog of the 1980’s, just with added layers of class and sophistication.

The penultimate track on the album, Parabellum, opens with a keyboard sound that I can only describe as being very similar to Faithless, especially the opening to that band’s track Insomnia (bet you never thought you’d get that reference Richard?). It is by a long way the most progressive track on the album and quite possibly the most intricate and involved. Again, there a touches of 80’s neo-prog but The Round Window has taken that influence and definitively made it their own on this rather imposing and inspiring song. The music is taken up another notch (if that was even possible!), just check out the soulful guitar solo and piano, which turns into a heavenly musical duet, and you will see what I mean. A somber but oh-so moving piece of music that leaves its mark long after it has finished. All great albums should finish on a high and the band don’t disappoint here as the sumptuous Epilogue is delivered. A rather contemplative, laid back opening leads the song in with calm and grace and then there’s more of David’s soaring guitar and Thomas’ elegant keyboards before this heartfelt song takes on a more passionate tempo. It is five minutes of grace, passion and warmth that closes out on possibly David’s most fervent solo of all.

‘Everywhere & Nowhere’ takes everything that was great about the band’s debut and just lifts it several levels. It is lush, classy, insightful and so melodically impressive and is an album that The Round Window should be mightily proud of. Difficult second album? not for these highly accomplished musicians!

Released 8th December, 2023.

Order digital from bandcamp here:

Everywhere & Nowhere | The Round Window (

Order CD’s direct from the band’s website here:

Everywhere & Nowhere – The Round Window

You can also order CD’s from Gravity Dream here:

The Round Window – Everywhere & Nowhere CD Preorder – Gravity Dream Music

Review – Subsignal – A Poetry of Rain – by John Wenlock-Smith

I’d not really bothered much with Subsignal until now, I’d seen folk talking about them online but not investigated them for myself, fearing that they were German prog metal and as such possibly best avoided, especially when my taste is for towards symphonic prog like The Emerald Dawn, Big Big Train and the like.

Well, I could not have been more wrong in my view for this album has definitely impressed the hell out of me. It is rather exceptional, just ten songs in all (on the bonus version) but with such style grace and variety running throughout. Okay, there are a few more heavy tracks but, in everything, there is melody and intelligence that go hand in hand to create some really strong and fine music. I did think that, perhaps, the album started off slowly but by the time you reach the fourth track, Silver (The Sheltered Garden), things really improve and very dramatically so.

What I like here is the fantastic use of dynamics to really make an impression and all the touches that they add to help in this realm but let’s start at the beginning shall we? Subsignal are a five piece, German, band who have been around since 2007 when they began as a side project for Arno Menses and Markus Steffen of Sieges Even after they disbanded.

The album begins with a brief overture called A Poetry Of Rain which leads into The Art of Giving In. The overture is gentle with good acoustic guitar over a wash of synthesised sounds and then a strong drumbeat ushers in the second track with some almost Dream Theater like guitar with strong bass and double bass drums to give a metal feel. However, within this power there is the band’s secret weapon, the sublime voice of Arno Menses who sings rather than growls and has a strong voice without any accent, he really is an accomplished and fine vocalist. There is also a suitably ferocious guitar break which impresses greatly. This is an exciting track that definitely grabs your attention from the off, the song ending on a high note with a strong driving performance with, oddly enough, an almost country feel with its pedal steel guitar and almost Americana sound, it is most impressive. Marigold is next and although you can almost hear The Power Of  Love (Jennifer Rush) in the opening, it thankfully moves in a different direction. There are lush vocal harmonies and some gentle guitar licks and fills, this is a layered and sumptuous sound which adds greatly to the songs strengths and is really rather fine by any standards. Silver (The Sheltered Garden) opens with a powerful crunchy guitar and an equally aggressive bass but behind the power there is a beast of a song. With great instrumental support from guitar and bass respectively, this track really deserves to be heard far wider than just prog circles as it is brilliant, strong most satisfying.

Impasse is even better than its predecessor, this track is remarkable with some very nifty bass runs throughout. It is a slow burn of a song, one that really grows on you with its acoustic mid section which really is impressive in style. A great chorus leads to a beautifully melodic guitar solo that puts you in mind of Steve Rothery and the impression doesn’t end there as the song has more than a touch of Marillion to it in many respects. For me, this is the track that really makes the album so good and so strong. Embers Part II: Water Wings has a great looping guitar line that sticks with you long after it ends. There is a build up of power in the mid section with chiming guitars and a prominent bass before the power riff resumes and the band add in soaring vocals and great piano runs against the looping guitar line. All of these together make this another highly impressive track, think of AOR with prog touches, utterly sublime and fantastic. Melencolia One is a punchy little rocker that marries great dynamics and intelligence with strong songwriting and performances. Again, more great bass runs add to the dynamics and the return of the crunching guitar works well, almost too good as I am totally swayed and won over by now. I really am liking this band a lot, so much so I am going to investigate their back catalogue as soon as I can!

A Wound is a Place to Let the Light In opens with an accapella vocal before a grand piano enters, along with more strong bass runs, add in a highly emotive vocal and you get another spectacular track with a stunning chorus and. It’s totally compelling and I’m on the ropes here now. The Last of its Kind is the final song proper on the album and opens with sequenced keyboards noises before some heavy bass and a muscular riff. The vocals are now sung growled and all the better for it on this track. An active drum beat and fills add to the surging power of the track with good keyboard textures floating over it all before a neat guitar solo leads in to the next verse and chorus. The song then takes a left turn with a jazzy saxophone solo which, when set against the heavy riff, is very impactful, as is the growling bass that carries the song forward before the punishing riff is reintroduced as the track draws to its conclusion. There was a bonus track, A Room on the Edge of Forever, on my download and it is a more restrained, gentle number with acoustic guitar and Spanish guitar trills The good clear vocal helps greatly before sweeping guitar chords usher in a multi layered vocal section and a delicate acoustic solo plays to fine effect. A key change adds emphasis and lift to the track which is very strong and ends on a gentle note

Well that’s it, it certainly does make a hugely positive impression when you listen and their great mix of heavy and soft sounds works really well for the band and makes this a truly exceptional album, why have I not heard these before now? This is a really excellent release, if you don’t know this group then maybe its time that you discovered them for yourself.

Released 22nd September, 2023.

Order from the band here:

A Poetry of Rain – SUBSIGNAL – The Official Website (

Review – Moon Safari – Himlabacken Vol.2

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”Confucius.

Music is wonderful and fantastic music can sometimes be all you need, there’s a joy and simplicity to just listening to music and letting it work its wonders on you and I don’t know any music that is more joyful that the glorious songs created by Moon Safari. Their wonderful multi-part harmonies will put a smile on your face and their incredible musicianship just leaves you dumbfounded in amazement.

Moon Safari is a Swedish progressive rock group formed in Skellefteå, Sweden, in 2003. The band focuses on vocal arrangements in the style of Gene Puerling and they willingly surrender to the spirit of 60s rock, pop and progressive rock music, previously invoked by the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Yes. After a near decade-long recording process, the band are set to make a storming comeback this winter with their fifth studio album ‘Himlabacken Vol. 2.’

As the band put it; “We’ve all wanted to quit at some point during the last decade. It’s been a real test of our patience and our commitment to the music. But in the end, we were pardoned by the Gods of Rock ‘n’ Roll and we’re back in great form. To hear the whole thing in one go is absolutely liberating, and well worth the wait. If this thing won’t fly, nothing we’ll ever do will. So welcome back to Heaven Hill, dear friends! We hope you’ll enjoy the ride.
All our love / MS”

Petter Sandström (Lead and Backing vocals, Acoustic Guitar), Simon Åkesson (Lead and Backing vocals, piano, organ, moog), Pontus Åkesson (Lead and Backing Vocals, Electric and Acoustic Guitar), Sebastian Åkesson (Backing Vocals, assorted keys, percussion), Mikael Israelsson (Backing Vocals, Drums, percussion, keyboards, piano) and Johan Westerlund (Lead and Backing Vocals, Bass Guitar) return with what they know is a worthy comeback album, filled with their own special brand of symphonic rock cultivated over 20 years as an antidote to the long, dark winters of northern Sweden, with those trademark vocal group-inspired harmonies, uplifting melodies and soulful romantic lyrics that the fans have come to expect.

It’s been ten long years since Moon Safari released their last studio album, ‘Himlabacken Vol. 1’, and hearing the first notes of opening track 198X (Heaven Hill) brings it all flooding back, the purity of the music and the joy in the wondrous vocals, it’s all still there! There’s an uplifting feel to the glorious keyboards and an almost 80’s AOR vibe to the guitar riffs but, when the harmonised vocals begin, the music goes full-on, upbeat scandi-prog (although with glint of pop music fun it its eye). Oh what a joyous feeling this music gives you! After that short but oh so sweet re-introduction to the band we are given the brilliance of Between the Devil and Me, the first track released from the album. A wonderfully laid back piano and keyboard opening gives way to some chugging guitars that then soar high into the heavens in a gloriously overblown way before we are off and running. This ten minute plus piece is a winner from beginning to end with an urgent drive delivered by the guitars and rhythm section and some utterly sublime vocals, as we’ve come to expect from the band. This dynamic track ebbs and flows between the more pressing verses and then the spine tingling chorus sections where the harmonies just soar into the heavens, it just brings elation and exultation with every note and every word. The second track released from the album is the succinct and very dramatic Emma, Come On. Edgy and yet gloriously theatrical, it’s three minutes of uplifting music that never fails to please.

We then go from the dramatic, high-tempo music of the first three tracks to something altogether more emotive and breathtaking, the sublime brilliance of A Lifetime to Learn How to Love. There’s an ethereal wonder about this captivatingly beautiful piece of music. It’s more about the vocals with the instrumentation used more as a presentation before those incredible voices deliver something quite passionate and wholly profound. Let time stand still and just enjoy every single moment of this musical treasure. Beyond the Blue feels like it fits its two minute running time perfectly and, again, it’s the stunning vocals that take centre stage on this musical amuse bouche, just stunning! After those two hauntingly spellbinding tracks we are back with the up-tempo, grin inducing music with Blood Moon. Like something perfectly formed in the 80’s and transported to the here and now, the music is catchy and attention grabbing and the vocals just put a huge smile on my face. This is music that is uplifting, joyous and completely inspiring and just gets under your skin in the best way imaginable.

And just when you don’t think it can get any better, Moon Safari deliver a twenty minute Scandi-prog epic that has everything that you’d expect from this inventive and accomplished band. With an opening that could be straight off an album by The Flower Kings, all intricate, harmonious and full of a funky melodic edge, you are drawn into the band’s sophisticated musical web. What a wonderful musical journey Moon Safari take you on with there emotive vocals and tender music but that impish, wide eyed wonder that the band engender is never far away, harmonies galore and some of the best guitar playing you’re likely to hear on a symphonic prog album, this superb song has it all. Exquisitely wistful and delivered with sophistication, charm and grace, Forever, For You just picks at the heart strings with its elegant vocals and refined instrumentation, it’s just ten minutes of music that really moves you with its contemplative, nostalgic feel and the sax playing of Jamison Smeltz is just sublime. Epilog closes proceedings in the perfect manner, just a church organ and piano and those memorable harmonies before an elegant acoustic guitar plays out to finish things on a high note.

Music has the power to move you and impact on your life in a positive manner and, with ‘Himlabacken Vol. 2’, Moon Safari have delivered the most wonderfully uplifting collection of songs I have heard this year. A joyous, mood enhancing release that just makes this world we live in a better place to be, if only for a short time. Trust me, you need this album in your life!

Released 8th December, 2023.

Order digital at bandcamp here:

Himlabacken Vol. 2 (24-bit audio) | Moon Safari (

Order physical product from Burning Shed here:

Himlabacken Vol. 2 (

Review – Baker Gurvitz Army – Live 1975 – by John Wenlock-Smith

I got very excited about this release but, before you think I’m strange, let me explain myself…

I’ve always been a bit obsessive about details, I even make my own lists of albums I own, ranking them in order of personal preference. For many years the second Baker Gurvitz Army album featured highly in those lists, as did this live album (well, actually it’s a live set from Reading University along with a few extra tracks from a different show in London, at the New Victoria Theatre).

I was already a fan because of my often mentioned friend Peter Boner who had introduced me to the band when I was just fifteen. So much so that I acquired a copy of their 1974 debut single Help Me/Space Machine that, of course, failed to make any significant chart impact. More is the pity as that single really rocked with thrilling synthesiser sounds, a very fiery guitar break from Adrian Gurvitz and the thunderous drumming of one Ginger Baker. That single is on this release, albeit it in a slightly different form in that some of the singles dynamics are missing, but it’s still a great track.

This album confused me initially as it contains tracks from all three BGA albums, then I realised that their brief career only spanned three years in all, with their self-titled debut album in 1974, ‘Elysian Encounter’ in 1975 and ‘Hearts On Fire’ coming in 1976. Shortly after their career was severely derailed by the death of their manager in a light aircraft crash near Moffatt in Scotland in 1976. This scuppered the band’s activities and with the increasing tensions between Adrian Gurvitz and Ginger Baker the band imploded and split to seek different activities. Which is why I was excited about this CD, especially as live recordings of the bands early days were not that accessible then and this is a particularly fine recording of this rather phenomenal band in action. They really deliver the goods in their performances, it’s really fiery and very well done.

The Baker Gurvitz Army were all seasoned musicians and this shows in the sound they offered. The band had been expanded from the trio format of the debut to a five piece with keyboard player Peter Lemer, his keyboards helping to add a jazzy edge to some tracks and Steve Parsons(Mr. Snips) was recruited as the band’s vocalist. The album has an earthy live sound, as you can tell from its rawness, also, many of the songs are extended from the studio recordings. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of drum solos and drum focused elements within the tracks although, to be fair, everyone gets their own moments to shine in tracks like 4 Phil, Remember and Memory Lane.

As I sadly never got to see the band in action (I don’t know why as they came to Birmingham Town Hall in 1975 so I could have gone), this cd is chance to experience, in some part, that missed opportunity for me. The set is balanced between the debut and ‘Elysian Encounter’ and, oddly, the title track that later appeared on ‘Hearts On Fire’ and there is a lot of time for improvisation throughout. Quite frankly, there may be a drum solo or two too many but, overall, this is a really fine snapshot of a great band who really warranted significantly more kudos and respect than they actually garnered.

The booklet is, as with most Esoteric releases, rather splendid with a good summation of their short career. The sound is very crisp and clear with only a few dropouts in a recording that is nearly fifty years old and it is an excellent document of an exciting evening that hopefully those who were there will still remember. This new release documents those moments for us all to relive and enjoy once again or, for younger folks, to discover and enjoy! For fans of 1970’ British Rock music this is a diamond and a much desired album, hearing a band hungry and accomplished and really firing on all cylinders. It is highly recommended from this possibly somewhat biased reviewer…

Released 24th November, 2023.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Baker Gurvitz Army: Live 1975, CD Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – The Twenty Committee – The Cycle Undone

“It is one of the most impressive debut albums I have ever heard and I can see why it found a place on many of the ‘best of’ lists of 2013. It is in turns inspiring, moving and uplifting and will stay with you for a long time to come. It left me wanting more and that happens on fewer and fewer occasions nowadays.”

That was my conclusion (when writing for Lady Obscure Music Magazine) of the debut album, ‘A LifeBlood Psalm’, from New Jersey, USA residents The Twenty Committee. That album was released ten years ago and it is only now that they are releasing ‘The Cycle Undone’, the band’s sophomore release and I am so happy that this talented bunch of musicians (with a couple of changes) are back on the scene, and back with an almighty bang!

The band’s current line up consists of Geoffrey Langley on lead vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, and organ, Justin Carlton on background vocals, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and additional keyboards, Joe Henderson on background vocals, drums, and percussion, Jeff Bishop on lead guitar and background vocals and Richmond Carlton on bass, harp, and background vocals. We also have Laura Langley guesting on autoharp and the legendary Annie Haslam of Renaissance dueting on lead vocals on the album’s title track.

Way back in 2015 I was chatting with Geoffrey about the prospect of album number two and he told me this, “We’re working as quickly as possible. I think I’ve told you before that I also do a lot of work in the musical theater world. We had our first Twenty Committee practice since January today. No Broadway yet but I’m getting close. Anyway, this puts the band on hold. All I can tell you is there will be another album and everyone that’s heard the new stuff say it sounds like a modern version of “Power and the Glory”. Hope that gets you pumped for album number two.” So, eight years later that promise has finally arrived.

According to the band, the album is ‘a sci-fi dystopian tale of sentient robots, flawed humans, out-of-control technology, morality, and how those four things reconcile each other.’ To be honest, after quite a few listens, it’s the music and the heart and soul of this record that really resonates with me.

The album opens with the epic twelve minutes of Recodified, a song whose opening reminds me of the fantastic prog/jazz fusion of Snarky Puppy but delivered in The Twenty Committee’s signature cultured style. I just get the feeling that the band had a blast while writing and performing this track. Geoffrey’s intricate keyboards and the effortlessly cool bass and drums of Richmond and Joe blend together perfectly while Jeff and Justin’s fizzing flashes of guitar add real panache, this intro really had me buzzing from the off. The track then opens up into definitive The Twenty Committee territory with Geoffrey’s gorgeous vocals flowing over the uber-smooth keyboards, chiming guitars and elegant rhythm section, it’s just gloriously textured and as polished as you like. Sparks In The Mind does a good job of following the opening masterpiece and is high energy, upbeat and shines with a vitality that positively lights up the place. There’s strong hints of early Ben Folds Five to my ears although the great vocals really do shine here. Now let’s get into Embers, a wistful, almost mournful piece of music that has beauty deep in its soul. Geoff’s vocals are sublime and full of passion and longing and the music just seems to add a plaintive and melancholy edge. The guitar bleeds emotion and a powerful yearning and just sends a shiver down my spine, what a superb piece of music it is. A Star in The Eye carries on the reflective, wishful feel and starts quite gently with the subdued vocals and restrained delivery of the music. There’s longing and hunger in the powerful chorus but this graceful song is calm serenity personified. It’s on tracks like this that you really appreciate the skill of the musicians, they are all particularly wonderful but Geoffrey’s keyboards can really stand out at times.

Forevermore is a musical delight, the intricate play between the guitar and keyboards is genius and the whole band are at the top of their game. Calm, reflective vocals give the foundation for what is almost a piece of musical theatre. Deeply thoughtful and introspective yet with a brooding intensity waiting to break out, a hidden intelligence almost. Sometimes you have to just stop and listen to the music and that’s what this song, and album is all about. The second epic on the album, and title track, The Cycle Undone is truly majestic, a prog epic in the best sense of the word. Intricate sections, calm, reflective moods, resplendent overtures, virtuoso musicianship and incredible vocals, this track has it all. The tastefully muted opening feels mystical and magical at the same time, building the story for the listener and holding you rapt in attention. A soulful guitar then takes up the refrain, soaring and diving with an emotive edge before Annie Haslam adds a brief touch of class. A brilliant Lenny Kravitz style guitar riff then lights a fire under the song and we are off on a 70’s rock style musical journey aided and abetted by some wonderful keyboards. Then Annie really gets to strut her stuff and deliver a superb vocal performance, duetting supremely with Geoffrey, as guest appearances go, they don’t get much better than this. Robot Death is all that’s great about The Twenty Committee distilled into six and half minutes of musical wonder. A calming piano and touching vocal really touch the heart strings before the stylish guitar and rhythm section add their skillful touch. This sumptuous song then plays out to the sounds of some pretty fantastic guitar playing, quite a compelling statement indeed. The album then closes with the delicate piano led Dust Returned, a contemplative sixty-four seconds to finish off this amazing musical performance.

With ‘The Cycle Undone’ The Twenty Committee have not only returned triumphant, they have also delivered one of THE musical experiences of 2023. Highly emotive songwriting allied with musicianship of the utmost quality, the band’s sophomore release builds on the enormous promise of their debut all those years ago. It may be ten years after but, boy, what a way to make a comeback!

Released 12th December, 2023.

Order the digital from bandcamp here:

The Cycle Undone | The Twenty Committee (

Kindred Spirit Band Announce Further Details of New Concept Album – “The Journey Within” – To Be Released In 2024

The Kindred Spirit Band have a revitalised and excellent sound with their almost completely renewed, “post Covid” line-up and they have been working hard, putting this sound into some powerful, new recordings, which have a real relevance to the current generation. The band’s music has rightly been described as,

“all about facing up to the hidden dangers and the stored-up menaces presented to us in the modern world. But salvation is offered by the band. Through music. The sounds and words invite us to think freely…written for our generation”.

Neil Mach, Ad Pontes, Staines

New Concept Album – ‘The Journey Within’, An Album for Our Generation:

Many of us have friends or family members battling with mental health issues. It could well be the rise of “the machine” and the complexity and fast pace created in our lives, by our computer driven world, which is driving this malaise. A full length, concept album is well underway, called ‘The Journey Within’, which we hope to release in 2024.

In this album, faced with dark visions and feelings of persecution, we manage to escape deep within our own minds to an “Alice In Wonderland” kind of dream world. Here, we know we want to escape back to the loving embrace of our family and friends, in the real world, but we don’t want the dark thoughts to follow us back and we need to find healing and salvation somehow.

Why This Album Will Be Unique:

In the story, deep within our own minds, we know we are looking for something. We encounter obstacles and meet several characters on the journey, all of whom are guardians of something as well as guides. These characters are one of the things which will make this album so unique; These characters are all personifications of a number of prog rock bands’ title characters! They come alive, in the songs in which they feature, on the album and all the prog rock bands involved have agreed to add some instrumentation and / or, vocals to their characters’ songs!

The bands involved, in the order in which they appear in the story, are:-

Haze (and Treebeard)
Spriggan Mist

Elaine has been researching mental health conditions and reading autobiographies of suffers, who describe their difficult journey from the inside and how they managed to eventually recover. She has drawn inspiration from a variety of real life stories to create the darkness and feelings of persecution in the start of the story. At the beginning, we find ourselves trapped in a large, old house full of distorted mirrors. Dark, shadowy, faceless beings emerge from the mirrors. They speak directly into our minds, with whispery voices and we know they are coming for us! Fans who have heard us sing these songs live already are telling us that they are, indeed disturbing yet enjoyable; so we know we are achieving our aims!

Elaine has also been researching books about the positive evolution of the human spirit, along with real life, alternative views on medicine, the body and healing therapies. She has pulled together and integrated a raft of contemporary thought on the question of improving mental, physical and spiritual health and hopes that anyone suffering with, or caring for someone suffering with, mental health issues might both enjoy the story and the music, as well as find some comfort and useful insight, from listening to “The Journey Within”. Music also plays a big role in our salvation and return to the real world too!

The songs for this album are almost complete. The story described in the songs can be read, along with illustrations being drawn by Elaine, and live performance video of some of the songs, on the Kindred Spirit Band web site here:-